The girl named Saffron knows family and clan the way she knows earth and sky, as absolutes. Of course, after a separation of four years, she looks forward to seeing her grandmother again, and makes a gift for her, a clay spindle. When Grandmother does not know who she is or what her gift is for, Saffron’s world is shattered. What good is a circle of clay now? How can anything ever make sense again?
Because she had only one stylus, Saffron pulled the teak-stick from atop her head, letting her hair-spiral fall loose down her back until it met the hot yellow grass on which she sat. On the slab of wood across her knees lay a thick disc of clay with her stylus standing upright in its exact center. Over the stylus she placed a loop of flax, then inserted the point of the teak-stick into the same loop, pulled it taut, and, taking greatest care to obey its length, traced in the clay a perfect circle around the stylus.
She took a long breath—so far, so good. Then she moved the stylus to a place on the edge of the circle, and once more tightening the loop of flax with her stick, she drew across the circle another line curved like a rainbow.
Again she moved her stylus, this time to the juncture where one end of the rainbow-arc touched the edge of the circle, and again she traced. When she had done this six times, she removed stylus, flax, and teak-stick to sit for a moment just gazing. In the moist-scented roundel of fresh clay she had etched a perfect shape with six points—no, not just points. Narrow almonds, like the petals of the blue saffron flower after which she was named.
Her father’s voice, sounding from above and behind her, interrupted her pleasure. “What are you making?”
“A spindle whorl to give to Grandmother when I see her once again at the gathering.”
“And what makes you think, my foolish young daughter, that she will want it?”
Although her father’s tone was teasing, not scolding, Saffron frowned. With the sun of her fourteenth summer baking her shoulders, she considered herself neither young nor foolish.
Father was saying, “Do you not realize how old my mother has become in the past four years?”
Grandmother wandered with the Loomcloth clan, but Saffron and her father lived with the Clayglazer clan, which he had joined when he had wed her mother. Others, the People of Spotted Wildcat Pelts, the People of the Yellow Cowrie Shells, the Troutfishers and so on, all roamed, rarely meeting, for the world was vast. So it had been since the Greatest Gifting before time or memory. But just as the four seasons measured a year, so four years measured a year of years when all of the clans, Deerspearers and Stoneshapers and the People of Blue Beads and many more, all traveled to meet at the gifting place, the world’s navel.
This was the fourth year. After the melons were harvested and the figs fell, at the time when days grew short and many torches were needed to fight back the darkness, all would gather together.